Bonanza Peak - Mary Green Glacier, July 2003
Ever since I first viewed the impressive hulk of Bonanza Peak from the summit of Chiwawa Mountain, I realized that I would one day have to actually climb the damn thing. Being the highest non-volcanic summit in the Cascades and the 6th tallest overall, Bonanza Peak holds an obvious appeal to any Cascade peak bagger. From the scenic boat ride up Lake Chelan, and the bus ride to the Lutheran retreat town of Holden, to finally a classic Cascades style climb, rife with voracious insects, route finding difficulties, occasionally loose rock and spectacular views, a trip to Bonanza Peak transcends the standard climbing experience and takes on the character of a true mountaineering adventure.
Joined by Eric Hoffman, I drove out to the Fields Point Landing to catch the 9:45am sailing of "Lady of the Lake II." We purchased round-trip tickets to Lucerne (Port of Holden) for $23 cash (or check) per person. We additionally had to pay $6/day, for three days to park the car at Fields Point. The two-hour boat ride to Lucerne is pleasant, despite the overbearing heat. The eclectic mix of devout Lutherans, tourons, and backpackers forced to share the limited seating on the boat kept us entertained. We got off the boat at Lucerne, fingers crossed, hoping that there was room for us on the bus. Seating can sometimes be limited and it might be advisable to notify Holden of your arrival date by writing as there are no phones in Holden. Fortunately for us, the Holden natives were expecting a relatively large influx of the faithful on this day and so sent three school busses to ferry visitors into town. We climbed onto the relatively empty 3rd bus and took our seats next to a party of three women from Oregon, one of which Eric and I found particularly appealing. Our gear is buried beneath a mountain of luggage, following behind us on a flatbed truck.
We arrive in Holden about 30 minutes later and have to endure a short briefing before being permitted to exit the bus. It's hot...really hot, and so Eric and I decide to hold off hiking the five miles up to camp at Holden Lake until later that afternoon. It's lunch time in Holden and we're hungry. Eric elects to join the Lutherans for lunch in the dining hall. I follow, reluctantly. Lunch consists of brown lettuce and sliced carrots (no dressing) a bowl of lentil or barley soup and bananas. I stick to the water, politely resisting repeated offers to share someone else's bowl of soup, while Eric chokes down some "salad" under the watchful eyes of the Holden fire chief sitting directly opposite us. "Lunch" is followed by a brief sermon and instructions in cleaning the soup bowls and how to correctly shred the banana peels. It is a group effort that I do not feel obligated to participate in. During this cleaning ritual, Eric and I quietly slip back outside. Wow! That was uncomfortable!
During the bus ride to Holden, Eric overheard the driver mentioning something about an ice cream parlor opening at 2:00pm. It was now 2:10pm and we have ice cream on the brain. Well, lunch was a bust, but four heaping scoops for a buck certainly make up for it. What a deal! We decided to time our return from Bonanza Peak to coincide with the 8pm opening of the ice cream parlor. Properly cooled, Eric and I threw on our packs and started hiking up to Holden Lake. We followed the main road west for a little under a mile to Holden Campground (c.3300'), then continued on the Railroad Creek Trail (FST 1256), reaching a junction with the Holden Lake Trail in 0.9 miles from the campground (c.3600'; FST 1251). After another 4 hot miles we reached Holden Lake, ESE of Bonanza Peak at an elevation of 5278'. Our first views of Bonanza Peak were had from here.
From camp, Bonanza Peak looks striking, if not imposing, and leaves one wondering where the route up to the glacier goes. An early season route ascends the obvious talus slope that fans out below a small waterfall breaking the cliffs that guard the upper glaciated bench. After a short afternoon reconnaissance trip to the far end of the lake, Eric and I decided to play it safe and approach the glacier via Holden Pass instead. We returned to camp and were greeted by a particularly aggressive swarm of biting black flies. As the temps cooled a bit, the black flies disappeared and swarms of voracious mosquitos took over. Despite the heat (high 80's perhaps?) we were left with no choice, but to wear all the clothes we had, just to keep the bugs at bay. There was much bitching about skeeters that night. Oh, the misery!
We left camp around 6:00am the next morning, expecting to reach the summit in about 6 hours. We reached Holden Pass (+6360') in about 45 minutes. From the pass we followed a climber's path west, up a mostly open slope. The trail ends at a talus slope, which we traversed to gain a small spur. From the top of this spur, we traversed a small ledge toward the slabby waterfall below and to the far right of the Mary Green Glacier (class 3). Once past the first waterfall branch (prepare to get wet!), we continued traversing for about another 100 feet until we found mostly dry, climbable, slabs leading to the bottom of the glacier (c.7300'). After roping up, Eric led out diagonally across the glacier, aiming for the obvious snow thumb at far left. Conditions on the glacier were much better than expected and we were able to take a relatively direct route to the base of the bergschrund. Reports suggest that ascending the north/outer margin of the glacier until below the bergschrund at the snow thumb may be the only way to reach the upper glacier later in the season.
After reaching the snow thumb, we located a narrow but reliably thick bridge spanning the yawning 'schrund (climb steep ice right of the 'schrund in the absence of this bridge). We then made an ascending traverse to the upper right corner of the snow thumb, locating an easy moat crossing in order to gain rock on the East Face. Once on rock, we free-climbed a short spur into an obvious left-trending gully (snow patches persist into late season and help identify the correct gully). After a few hundred feet of mostly class 3 climbing, with one slabby dihedral section (class 4), we traversed left into an adjacent gully (obvious rap slings indicate you're on route). After 200-300 feet of class 3/4 climbing, this gully reaches the East Ridge about 100 vertical feet below the summit. The final scramble to the summit follows on or left of the East Ridge crest (class 3/4). We reached the summit at 10:30am, 4 1/2 hours after leaving camp. The climb went much quicker than anticipated, and we encountered virtually no difficulty whatsoever. What a magnificent view we had from up there! After more than an hour on the summit (65-70 degrees with a light breeze), we started back down. Combining 4 rappels and careful downclimbing, we quickly reached the edge of the snow thumb. Once back on snow, we retraced our steps back over the bergschrund and back down the glacier to the top of the slabby waterfall.
A large boulder resting precariously on a slab provided a somewhat suspect anchor for the rappel down wet slabs (someone needs to bring a long sling to replace the one placed here in '95, a triple should do). We packed away the ropes and continued back to camp. Enticed by ice cream and motivated by the bloodthirsty mosquitoes, we packed up camp and hiked back to Holden. Alas, we failed to realize it was Sunday and Holden was all but shutdown when we arrived, save of course for the church. With heavy feet, we walked back to the Holden Campground for another lovely night amongst bugs. The next morning, we decided to check out the copper mining "museum" at the edge of town (public showers located in huts across from bridge). There wasn't much to see save for some shacks, a partially collapsed and abandoned mill and of course, the enormous tailings plateaus of various heights and sizes (clearly visible from the summit of Bonanza Peak). It stands to reason that the Holden mine area could be a Superfund site.
We strolled back into town to catch the 10:45am bus back to Lucerne. We were pleased to discover a buffet of coffee and pastries laid out in the main courtyard and happily helped ourselves to several servings. Once back at Lucerne, I took a refreshing dip in Lake Chelan while we waited for the 12:15pm arrival of the "Lady Express". Rather than wait till 2:30pm in that heat for the "Lady II", we reluctantly "upgraded" our tickets for $19 a pop and boarded the "Lady Express" for the one hour plus ride back to Fields Point. It must have been around 100 degrees in the Fields Point parking lot that afternoon, and, unfortunately, I failed to leave the windows cracked. The beer left in the car was disgustingly warm, but we drank it anyway. Still, none of that mattered. We were just happy to be finally rid of the bugs and back among the infidels.
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